The first thing that hits you is the voice, worn around the edges and full of the heartbreak that comes with life and love. His world-weary vocals bringing up inevitable comparisons to his famous father, the sheer power of the music seeps into your soul. If Michael’s evocative singing was the only attraction on Michael Allman’s Hard Labor Creek, it would still be worth hearing, but there is a lot more going on than that. Some of the most gifted musicians in Georgia, from young slide guitar phenom Tony Tyler to Motown alumnus and keyboard legend Ike Stubblefield, contribute to the overall sound of this remarkable record. Tyler’s slide and keyboard work are an essential part of the sound of Hard Labor Creek, adding just the right touch without overpowering the song. Stubblefield kicks serious butt here, showing why he is a first-call session player, and his production contribution is one reason this CD sounds so darn good. Soulful backing vocals by Atlanta local favorite Diane Durrett and percussion from Derek Trucks Band drummer Yonrico Scott flesh out the songs. The one and only Col. Bruce Hampton also makes a memorable cameo appearance. While Michael Allman’s Hard Labor Creek stands on its own merits, he isn’t ashamed of his heritage, and there are several references to his famous father. “Laid Back” written by Sonny Tackett, was inspired by Gregg’s classic album of the same name. “If Dreams Were Money” was actually written for Gregg years ago by veteran Boston musician Bruce Marshall.
Still, the spotlight is firmly on Michael, who wrote four of the songs on the CD, and delivers each tune with the kind of thoughtful approach that squeezes the inner meaning out of every word. The lyrics in songs like “Running Alone Again”, “It Ain’t Me” and “Circus Full of Clowns” address universal topics like love and loss in a way that any listener can relate to.